Tag Archives: child language development

Language Development

Language Development: Why is my child having trouble learning his ABC’s?

Most parents look forward with a bit of trepidation to their children learning to read. It’s a big step, and there is perhaps no other skill more important to your child’s development than reading.

So when your child finds learning to read difficult, it can be as devastating to you as it is to your child.

There are several reasons why your child might have trouble learning their alphabet. Of course all children are different, and you might find that your child’s reading difficulties are caused by more than thing on this list. However, be assured that your child will learn to read eventually.

Weak auditory memory

A strong auditory memory is what allows your child to remember what they hear. If your child’s auditory memory is weak, they’ll have trouble remembering that the m in man is the same sound as the m in map.

Recognizing initial sounds is one of the first steps in most phonics programs, so if your child has this problem, you’ll probably notice even before your child starts kindergarten.

Weak auditory – visual language association

This sounds complicated, but it really means that your child has trouble putting together an auditory piece of info with a visual one. Practically, that means that they can’t seem to associate the sound m with the letter m.

This was a minor problem for one son of mine, and a huge problem with a second. The second son also had a weak auditory memory on top of it, which made things that much harder.

Weak visual discrimination skills

In order for your child to read well, they need to be able to tell one letter from another. A child who has weak visual discrimination skills, finds this difficult to do. They may simply need glasses , which is easy to fix.

Believe it or not, this happens more frequently than parents realize, which is why I always insist kids get an eye exam before I do an evaluation. It’s not always easy to tell when a child needs glasses, especially if they’re young.

Weak visual closure skills

Visual closure is the skill that lets children put the whole picture together from the parts. So for example, let’s say you’re building a toy airplane for your daughter. A child with visual closure issues would have trouble looking at the pieces on the table and recognizing that you’re building an airplane.

Practically, if your child has weak visual closure skills, she might be able to read a word like hat, but when given the individual letters, won’t be able to make the word hat from them.

This problem is harder to see if your child’s teacher relies heavily on sight words. However in most classes, all alphabet learning involves building words, so your child would have trouble as soon as they start putting words together.

Weak auditory closure

This is similar to visual closure, except it involves sounds. So your child would have trouble blending words together(c-a-t). This can also become doubly complicated if your child also has even a mild weakness in auditory memory: by the time they get to the last letter, they might have forgotten what the initial letters were, and so be unable to read the word.

These may seem overwhelming, but don’t worry! I’ll be writing posts later on with specific activities that you can use to help your child overcome these weaknesses.


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Expressive Language

Hands on Learning: How Chocolate Chip Cookies Can Improve Your Preschooler’s Expressive Language

If you’ve ever done traditional speech therapy exercises with your child, you know how boring they can get sometimes.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say that, but…it’s true more times than not. The bigger problem with standard speech therapy exercises, however, is they just don’t seem to connect with your child’s life: they feel like school homework.

This hands on learning game is a speech therapy exercise in disguise: it’s great for improving your child’s expressive language, and your child will have fun too – guaranteed!

This is how the game works: you’ll bake a fun recipe with your child, taking pictures of the steps along the way. While your child is busy eating the products of her creation, she will sequence the pictures in the order they happened, telling you briefly about each picture.

My three little ones (ages 6, 4 ½, and 3 ½) did this hands on learning activity in less than hour. Because it was a relevant, recent experience full of a lot of meaning, even the child with the most serious language issues was able to briefly explain each picture.


-your favorite child friendly recipe

How to Play

1) Lay out the ingredients you will use for your recipe in one spot. Take a picture.

2) Start making the recipe, taking pictures at key points. For example, we made chocolate cookies. So I took pictures when we mixed in an ingredient, when we stirred, when we actually shaped the cookies, when the unbaked cookies were waiting to be put in the oven, on a plate after being baked, and – while the kids ate and enjoyed them!

That’s a lot of steps, which would normally be too hard for your child to sequence. But with a little help from siblings or myself, every child was able to say what each picture represented and sequence the pictures in the order that they took place.

TIP: If you have a child that can read already, you can write down what the child says on a sentence strip, one strip for each picture. Your child can then read the strip, and then find the picture that matches it.

If your child has trouble sequencing or is very young, print out two copies of each picture. Then tape all of them together sequentially in one long strip. Now your child can simply match his individual pictures to the ones on the strip.



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Listening games

How to Improve Your Preschooler’s Listening Skills with Antoinette Portis’ book Not a Box – Hands on Learning Games

One of my favorite ways of improving my children’s learning skills is through books. Books are great for exposing your child to topics they wouldn’t have otherwise thought about, which is especially important for kids with language delays, who tend to be very weak in the kind of knowledge that other kids pick up just from their environment.

Books are also great for improving your child’s critical thinking skills, and there’s now research that shows wordless picture books are great for improving your child’s expressive language skills.

Still, I’m always cooking up new ways to use books, and today I have a new hands on learning activity that’s a good sequencing activity, and that helps improve your preschooler’s listening skills.


For this game, you’ll need a copy of Antoinette Portis’ book Not in a Box. I enjoyed the simplicity of this book, which makes the pictures clear and easy to understand for younger bunch, since some of them do have language delays. In the book, a rabbit finds a box, and manages to turn the box into a race car, a mountain, a burning building, and a robot before the story ends.

Every time he makes something creative from his box, he is asked “Why are you sitting in/standing on that box?” Your child will work on her listening skills by following along and sequencing the various items that the rabbit created.

How to play the game:

1. Read the story once through to your children, pointing to the pictures and naming the various objects that the rabbit created. Make sure your child repeats after you the names of each object, and points to the picture. Doing this encourages your child to use her visual system to support her weak auditory skills.

2. Go back to the beginning of the story, and name the first 2 objects that the rabbit created. Have your child repeat the names after you.

3. Then close the book, and ask your child to see if he can remember the names of those 2 items. If your child has trouble, you can give him a hint by saying part of the word out loud, letting your child fill in the blanks.

4. Continue going through the book this way, asking your child to remember one new item at a time, until she memorizes all of the items.

TIP: You can make this game easier by xeroxing the pictures, cutting them out, and letting your child sequence the pictures instead of having to verbally tell you what the items were.

You can make this game harder by having your child name the items forwards and backwards.

More fun stuff: You can extend this activity by helping your child create their own “Not a Box” story. Simply find a decent-sized box, take pictures of your child “creating,” and print them out on regular printer paper. You can ask your child to tell you the text as you write it down.


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Language Development

Children’s Language Development: 3 Reasons Why I Speak Down to My Child (And Why You Should Too)

In my house I purposely speak down to our younger children.

Conversations revolve around topics like mealtimes, playtimes, and bath times. Sentences are purposely brief, with most words no longer than two syllables. You might call it unimaginative.

I call it functional.

It gets the point across. Quickly. Everyone understands what’s being said, letting us move on to other things, like dancing in the mud on a summer’s day.

You see, my three younger children all have varying levels of language development. While their ages differ, they all have language delays ranging anywhere from six months to a year.  And though most parents would rise to the challenge by immersing their children in a tsunami of words, sentences, and extended conversations, I’ve done exactly the opposite. And here’s why:

Bigger is better. Not.

A while ago my family and I relocated to a foreign country. I knew the language – or so I thought. I quickly discovered that when your language skills aren’t up to par, short and sweet wins the day.

In order for your child to understand and learn to speak better, he needs to be able to understand most of what he hears. Submerging your child in a sea of complicated sentences and multi-syllable words does the exact opposite.

Success is in the numbers.

Research shows that in order for people to learn a new skill successfully, there needs to be an 80% success rate. That means that only 2 out of every 10 words that you speak to your child should be unfamiliar.

More than that, and learning either doesn’t happen, or progresses at a very slow pace.

Using fewer words, simpler sentences, and talking about the here and now, forces you to choose words your child will understand.  And that’s a win-win for both of you.

One good thing leads to another.

Once your child sees how easy it is to understand you, he’ll be more likely to test the waters and talk more. More talking leads to a better connection with you, which in turn leads to – you guessed it – more talking.

And after all, that is what you want, right?








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Language Development

Language Development: Best Tips On How to Combat Summer Learning Loss

You’ve probably heard teachers moan about how much information children forget over the summer. And as a parent of a child with language development delays, you've probably seen it in action. Material that your child sweated blood and tears to learn has somehow been lost in your child's memory files.

The most common areas that children forget are the ones where –surprise- there is a lot of repetition and practice. Math and spelling are two subjects that are particularly vulnerable.

However children with learning disabilities often spend a larger portion of their time learning and reviewing material that other children acquire easily. For them, the summer "brain drain" is even more devastating.

Research shows that an average child  loses a full month of general studies, and two months of math skills. In other words, by sixth grade your child will have lost half a year of general studies skills, and a full year of math skills.

s there anything you can do - short of putting your child in school year round?

Yes! There are several things you can take to help your child retain most of the material they’ve learned during the year. Here are some tips:

1. Set a specific time to learn with your child, and stick to it.

Summertime is a busy time for most parents and children. Between camp, family vacations, and the occasional trip or family get-together, it can be hard to maintain any sort of schedule.

Children with learning issues, however, do better with a consistent, predictable schedule. Download this free daily planner to help keep your family on track.

2. Schedule a 15 minute block of time to learn with your child.

Review doesn’t need to take hours. In fact, the brain functions more efficiently when smaller amounts of material are reviewed over a period of time. You don’t need to set aside hours a day in order to help your child stay on top of things; 15 minutes a day spent reviewing a few math problems and a several spelling problems will do the job just as effectively as twice the amount of time.

3. Throw a few hands-on learning games into the mix.

The great thing about the summer is that you have more opportunities to give your child some real hands-on learning experiences. Use the extra time you have to follow up on some of the topics or concepts your child learned during the year, by visiting science museums, renaissance or history fairs, or even by performing a science experiment in your backyard.

Not only is it a great way to answer that popular question “will I ever need this in real life?” but it also gives you an opportunity to have quality time with your child.

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Hands-on Learning Games: Teach Your Child the Months of the Year in Less Than a Week

Is your child struggling with memorizing the months of the year? Often children with a delay in language development have difficulty with concepts involving time. Younger children have trouble with using words like “yesterday” and “tomorrow” appropriately; you may find your child asking you when yesterday’s baseball game will be.

Older children, even well into middle school, may struggle with knowing what day of the week comes before Sunday, or what month a particular holiday falls out on. You may find that even your tween struggles with remembering the order of the months of the year.

This hands -on learning game will help your child learn the months of the year, as well as improve her sequencing skills, which are at the root of her difficulties with concepts involving time.  It can also be adapted to suit children and teens of all ages.


-Print out two copies of a paper with name of the month on top and the picture associated with it on the bottom. Take one copy of each month, and cut it in half. That will leave you with one set of pictures with both the name of the month and its picture, PLUS a set of labels with the name of the month, and a set of labels with only pictures.

Examples of pictures for each month include: January-New Year’s Day, February-Valentine’s Day, March-wind, April-flowers, May-rain, June-last day of school, July-Fourth of July, August-hot day, September-first day of school, October-Halloween, November-Thanksgiving, December- winter, or holiday.)

* You can use your child’s picture for the month their birthday falls out on. Also, if you can’t think of a picture, simply let your child pick out a picture that they like.

How to Play:

1. Choose a large space to work at so you will have plenty of space to spread out the materials.

2. Place the copies with the months and the pictures cut out to the side. You don’t need them yet.

3. Place the page for January on the table before your child. Say the name of the month clearly, and point to the picture (no need to name the picture).

3. Do the same thing with the next month.

4.  After 2 or 3 months, mix up the pages, and ask your child to put them back in order. If she can read, she should name the months after she has placed the pages in order. If not, then you can say the names of the months and have her repeat after you.

5.   Continue until you’ve completed all the months of the year, making sure to stop after every 2-3 pages. You have a choice whether or not to require your child to remember previous pages. It really depends on how hard or easy it is for your child. So, for example, if your child can easily remember months 1-2, then when you do months 3-4 you can ask them to order the pages from months 1-4, all at once.

If this is hard for your child, you can have them do only months 1-2, then 3-4, and so on. As they get better at it you can slowly increase the number of months they remember at one time.

7.  Continue until your child can recite the names of the months in order forwards and backwards.

TIP:  Younger children can simply match the cut out pictures with the complete pages. In that case as they place the picture they can call out the name of the month that goes with it.

Children who can read can sequence the names of the months only. This would be step number 8.

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Language Development

Language Development: Improve Your Child’s Spelling with These 5 Tips

In these days of iPads and laptops for every child, spelling might seem to be outdated skill. Add to that texting, e-mail, and chatting and you might imagine that the necessity for accurate spelling has gone the way of the phonograph.

In fact, while spelling isn’t necessarily the most essential skill, those who do spell well can take justifiable pride in their talent, which displays a combination of good visual memory, well-developed language skills, and the ability to apply rules appropriately.

And while some of the most atrocious spellers have turned out to be quite successful, there’s nothing like a poorly spelled note to cast doubt on the writer’s competency and intelligence.

If your child has difficulty spelling, there are several things you can do at home that can help him improve his ability to spell:

1)  Drill, drill, and more drill. For many, flash cards bring to mind endless hours sitting at the kitchen table with dog-eared index cards, doomed to complete an entire run before bedtime. The truth is that nowadays there are numerous alternatives to index cards. There are numerous software programs for spelling that can be played on the computer or an iPod.

You can also use online flashcard makers such as Quizlet, Flashcard Machine, and ProProfs.

2)  Encourage your child to write in stages. Some children, especially those with attention or memory issues, err in spelling when they are asked to complete numerous stages of writing at once. Spelling and punctuation should be done separately from the creative stages of writing.

3) A word-family approach can help children with visual memory weaknesses. Memorizing only parts of words is easier for children who have weak visual memories. Because they can categorize words according to their word family, they actually have to remember less.

4) Play board games like Scrabble and Spill and Spell. Games are a fun way of practicing spelling without the tediousness of testing. You can even out the odds by allowing your child more time spelling, letting them look up some of their words in a dictionary, or pairing them with a partner.

5) Have your child maintain a personal dictionary. Your child writes down words he commonly misspells in a notebook. Once she becomes proficient at a word (spelled correctly 100% of the time) she can cross out that word and add another one.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with a poor speller is to keep things in perspective. Make sure your child understands that while spelling is important, what you write is even more so.

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Language Development

Language Development: Warning – Don’t Read This If Your Child Is in Speech Therapy

If you’re in the middle of intensive speech therapy sessions with your child, you’re not going to want to hear this.

Do yourself a favor. Go out of the room. Tackle that mammoth load of laundry sitting on DD’s bed. Check out that fancy new toilet paper in the office bathroom. Because if you hear what I’m about to say, you’re probably going to want to run out and engage in some really socially inappropriate behavior (I’m not saying you should do that, okay?)

You’re still here? Okay, I’ll try to break it to you easy: your child is probably going to have a reading problem. And maybe a writing problem. Math could throw him some curves too.

And although there’s no way of knowing how severe those problems are likely to be, the fact is that children with weak language development are a heck of a lot more likely to have trouble with the 3 R’s later on in their school careers than the average child.

That’s because no matter how hard you and your child have worked, the vast majority of therapy is aimed at treating the symptoms of your child’s language disorder. Most therapy programs spend a lot of time on building vocabulary, helping your child learn to communicate her needs effectively, and improving comprehension.

That’s all great stuff, don’t get me wrong. But they all make one big mistake: very few therapy programs tackle the reason behind your child’s weak language development. Issues like difficulty paying attention, poor auditory or visual memory, weak sequencing skills- all of these need to be addressed from the bottom up. Otherwise, it’s a lot like painting an antique piece of furniture without stripping the old paint underneath: at some point, the original paint is going to start showing through.

So when you choose a therapy program, don’t just consider how good the therapist is, or how many children graduate successfully from treatment. If you want your child to be successful – even years later– make sure to find out whether and how the therapy addresses the basic skills behind acquiring good language skills.

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Language Development

Language Development: 3 Tips on How to Get Your Preschooler to Cooperate –Nearly Every Time

Being a preschooler is awkward at times. Your preschooler is no longer the sweet toddler who will fight you to the last pretzel crumb, and yet he still has time until he possesses the easy self-confidence of the first grader.

Children who suffer from weak language development can be especially difficult, since they have the desires of a child their age without the language to express it.

In the meantime, your preschooler is a little bit like a moist butterfly struggling to free itself from the chrysalis. Unsure of whether he wants to be “big,” you may find him resorting to baby talk in the morning while insisting on doing everything by himself  later on in the afternoon.

Naturally this yo-yo-ing is bound to cause quite a few clashes, as you try to figure out how much space to give your preschooler, and when. However, when do you find yourself at odds with your determined preschooler, there are several techniques  you can pull out of your once-upon-a-time diaper bag that are sure to gain your preschooler’s cooperation almost every time:

1. Make him want to do it. Usually we approach things from our perspective. We want our son to eat his lunch because it’s healthy, and because we took the time to prepare it. We want our daughter to stop jumping in the mud puddles because we don’t want that new dress to get ruined.

What if instead, you stopped to consider the situation from your child’s point of view?

Instead of insisting that he eat his food because it’s healthy (so you say), why not remind him that if he eats all of his food he’ll get tall enough for that new “big boy” bike he’s been pestering you about? Of course you have to make sure he understands he won’t grow tall right away, but he wants that bicycle so strongly that he’ll probably be willing to eat cold fish soup to get it.

2. Say it with a smile. It’s amazing how simple it is, but a genuine smile softens even the worst of blows. Not only can a smile say I love you, and I enjoy you, but a smile can also show sympathy at having to break up a good pillow fight to send your mini-marauders off to bed.

3. Show how you care about what is important to him. Let’s face it: in the day to day grind of taking care of small children, sometimes your mind starts to operate on auto pilot. You don’t mean to, but at the end of the day it seems sacrifice enough to be listening at all, after having been immersed in Little People Land for several hours.

Despite this, try at least a few times a day to show interest in what your child enjoys and is enthusiastic about. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and make sure your voice tone shows you are genuinely interested. You’ll probably find your child needs less attention from you.

4. Let her feel important. At the end of the day, small children aren’t much different in this than their grown-up counterparts: everyone likes to feel important, in some way.  Children try in so many ways to feel important – sometimes by imitating the grown-ups, sometimes by showing off a new skill.

But if your child doesn’t have a legitimate opportunity to strut her stuff, she’ll find some other way to do it, and it won’t always be pleasant for you.

Give your child a chance daily to show how big she is, whether that means helping set the table for dinner, folding and putting away her clothing, or helping bathe her baby brother.

She’ll not only be happier and more cooperative, but she’ll be eager to pay back the favor - and will do so by being extra cooperative, even during times when you would have expected her to balk.

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Language Development

Language Development: 6 Must-Know Tips on Helping the Child with Weak Expressive Language Skills

If you think that speech therapy is the only way to help the child with weak language development, think again. There are numerous reasons why you, as your child’s primary caretaker, are a great candidate for helping your child. First of all, your child spends a relatively limited time in therapy. And as a parent, you know your child inside out.

Second, you know that when your daughter shrugs her shoulders she’s feeling overwhelmed, and that “umba” is short for “I’m going bye-bye.”  You also know what motivates them, and you probably have a good idea when they’ve had enough.

Last of all:  you spend more time with your child, whether it’s in carpool on the way back from school, or waiting in line at the grocery store. And time, in the therapy game, is a deal maker.

If you’re feeling incapable of teaching your child on your own, then consider this: you’ve already taught your child some of the most difficult tasks he’ll ever accomplish. And look at it this way: helping your child learn to express himself beats cleaning up walls, toys, and the insides of shoes (she told you she didn’t like them, didn’t she?) smeared with poop ANY DAY.

Now for those six tips:

1) Encourage your child to elaborate.

Children with weak language development tend to speak in short, incomplete sentences. They don’t always express complete thoughts, either because it’s too difficult for them or because they assume you know what they’re talking about.

Instead of accepting this state of affairs, explain to your child what elaboration is, and why it’s important. When your child reverts to incomplete, cut-off, or non-sequitor sentences, follow up with an “I need you to explain that part to me a little bit more. What/Where/How did that happen?

2) Play 20 Questions.

You can play a new twist on this family favorite that will help your child learn how to describe objects in more detail. First, you choose something in the room. Then you start giving details about it, one detail at a time. After each detail given your child gets a chance to guess what you’re thinking of.

Because your child can look around in the room, it will be easier for her to guess what you’re referring to. And when it’s her turn to describe an object, she won’t have to rely on memory; she’ll have a visual stimulus right in front of her.

3) Discourage the use of words like “stuff” or “thing.”

Encourage your child to think of the word she really wants to say, rather than relying on these vague filler words. If he struggles with word retrieval issues, encourage him to give clues about what he’s referring to. For example, if he wants to say hot dog, he can say “you eat it on a bun. It’s long and thin.”

Once you guess what the word is, don’t automatically tell your child the word. Instead, just say the first few sounds or syllable, and let your child fill in the blank.

4) Be careful not to embarrass your child in public.

While improving your child’s speech is a noteworthy goal, not all places and times are ideal for doing so. Don’t ask your child to give long or complicated answers, if they’ll have trouble getting their thoughts together. If your son makes a grammatical error, don’t correct him in front of everyone; wait until you get home, and tell him there.

5) Make sure your child gets a chance to speak.

It’s easy to get in the habit of helping your child finish his sentences, or explaining what he means to other family members. But if you want your child to improve, you need to step back, and give him a chance to use the skills he is learning.

Also, if there are other children in the family who are very verbal, you will need to step in and ensure that your quieter child gets to have his say too.

6) Shut off TVs, DVDs, cell phones, and other gadgets during specific times of the day.

If you want your child to improve her expressive language skills, there has to be a time when meaningful conversation can take place. A conversation with your daughter with the TV in the background, cell phone in her hand and iPod in yours is bound to fail.

Furthermore, the “rules” of texting and chatting discourage lengthy conversations, and encourage poor grammatical usage.

So set a specific time of day for “unplugging.” Whether it’s at dinner, before bed, or after 10:00 in the evening, doing so will not only improve your child’s ability to talk, but will strengthen family ties as well.

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